The BS Brigades, led by the National Economic Council's Phil Weiser

Cited Article

Juliana Gruenwald, Official Says Most Broadcasters Unlikely To Give Up Spectrum, National Journal, February 24, 2011.

Quote from Article

“When asked what share of the proceeds broadcasters will want in order to give up spectrum, Weiser said he did not believe it would be much given that they will still have ‘the same business model but it is done … more efficiently.'”

My Comment

At yesterday’s event sponsored by the Wireless Innovation Alliance, I asked the National Economic Council’s Phil Weiser what share of the proceeds broadcasters would get in order to give up the spectrum.  In response, he essentially refused to answer the question. He asserted that receiving a high percentage of the proceeds was not a top priority of the broadcasters—an assertion I found ludicrous. Further, he asserted that since the broadcasters hadn’t made this issue a top priority, the administration and Congress hadn’t focused on it—an assertion I also found ludicrous.

However, Weiser at least tried to either dodge or answer the question. His colleagues at the NTIA and FCC refused to answer the question, although it was also directed at them.

Obviously, the administration and its bipartisan congressional allies on this spectrum issue would prefer to change the subject, as the “win-win” storyline is the one they’ve chosen to use to frame the issue, whereas a “broadcaster windfal” storyline would involve them in controversy and force them to confront the terrifying power of the local TV broadcast lobby .

Right now the broadcast lobby has a two-fold strategy to make sure they receive the lion’s share of any future spectrum auction. First, repackage the broadcast band to acquire as many yet unclaimed spectrum rights as possiible. This has been their main strategy to seek economic windfalls from taxpayers over the last two decades, and with supporters like the National Economic Council, NTIA, FCC, and bipartisan leadership in Congress, they should do extremely well.

Second, to get as high a share as possible of the auction proceeds, should there be one. The primary euphemism broadcasters are using to ensure that the public is only left with a figleaf of return from the auction of the public’s airwaves is “voluntary” broadcaster participation. If participation is “voluntary,” then the only way the government can get the broadcasters to relinquish the spectrum is by giving them the lion’s share of the proceeds. Otherwise, the broadcasters can just hold out for a better offer.

The broadcasters’ two strategies are releated because the more rights you have to an asset for sale, the more revenue you’ll get from the sale.

Shame on the public interest community for not revealing its financial and institutional conflicts of interest with the public on this issue. I suspect that if the issue continues to rise in profile the public interest community will have to take the side of the public, if only in a face saving way, to preserve its credibility. These conflicts have long dogged the public interest community. But we’ve rarely seen the consequences so vividly displayed as in the current intellectually and morally stunted debate.

Related Articles

John Eggerton, NAB Hosting Hill Meetings On Broadband/Broadcast Coexistence: One of many educational efforts NAB spearheading in coming weeks, monthsBroadcasting & Cable, February 22, 2011.

Price Colman, Auction Talk Draws TV Spectrum Speculators, TVNewsCheck, February 23, 2011.

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